Fire Extinguisher Safety

fire extinguisher safety
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)

When they are used correctly, fire extinguishers can save both lives and property, but many adults do not know how to properly use one. It is important to know how fire extinguishers work, how to use them, how to identify which type to use, and how to maintain them before a fire takes place.

Before Using an Extinguisher

While it is necessary to act quickly in the event of a fire, education also goes a long way in fighting hostile fires. Knowing what to do in an emergency before it happens will help make firefighting quicker and safer:

  • Pull the alarm – If you see a fire, always activate the fire alarm to alert both the occupants of the building as well as the fire department (call 9-1-1 if your alarm system doesn’t do this automatically).
  • Plan an escape route – if you plan on fighting the fire, know how to leave the area quickly in case the fire gets out of control. Only fight the fire if you have a clear escape route.
  • Know how to use the extinguisher – take time to learn how to properly aim, sweep, and extinguish a fire; many offices and companies have annual employee safety trainings which include fire extinguisher exercises.
  • Assess the size of the fire – fire extinguishers are only meant to put out small, single-location fires; never attempt to put out a large conflagration with a handheld extinguisher.
  • Determine the fuel source – it is important to know what kind of fire is burning before you use an extinguisher – using the incorrect extinguisher can be extremely dangerous – by spreading the fire or causing flare ups. For example, using a water-based extinguisher can spread an oil fire or electrocute a user fighting an electrical fire, and Carbon Dioxide extinguishers can actually fuel certain types of fires.

Types of Extinguishers

A fire’s fuel source will determine what type of fire extinguisher needs to be used to extinguish it. In the United States, there are five classes of fires as defined by the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Class A – Common combustibles such as wood, paper, most plastics, rubber, and fabric. Symbols: Triangle with letter A and picture of burning wood/trash can.
  • Class B – Flammable liquid such as gasoline, oil, paint, and kerosene. Symbols: Square with letter B and picture of burning gasoline jerry can.
  • Class C – Electrical fires and electrical equipment. Symbols: Circle with letter C and picture of burning electrical plug and socket.
  • Class D – Combustible metals such as lithium batteries, sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Symbol: Five-Pointed Star with letter D and picture of burning machine gears.
  • Class K – Cooking oils and fats such as vegetable oils, margarine, butter, animal fats, and grease. Symbol: Hexagon with letter K and picture of pan/pot on fire.

Each class is marked on an extinguisher by both a letter (class letter), and a symbol. Most homes and offices contain multi-purpose “ABC” extinguishers which can be used for those three classes of fire. The contents of fire extinguishers vary depending on the class of fire being put out. Some materials can put out multiple classes of fire, while others are used for only a specific class. These include dry chemicals, foams, Carbon Dioxide, halon gases, compressed water, and pressurized metal based powders. It is important to know what is in your building’s extinguishers so they do not cause more damage than necessary (especially when used around electronic equipment). It is also important you never use the incorrect class of extinguisher as it may exacerbate the fire.

Using an Extinguisher

When using an extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”, which stands for, Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Stand between 6 to 8 feet away from the fire and:

  • Pull the safety pin to release the trigger.
  • Aim at the base of the fire (where the fuel source is).
  • Squeeze the trigger continuously until the spraying stops.
  • Sweep from side to side until the fire extinguisher is empty.

An average size fire extinguisher dispenses its contents within 8 to 10 seconds – if the fire does not disappear, leave the area immediately.

Proper Maintenance

Fire extinguishers need to be routinely checked for adequate pressure and cleanliness.

  • Make sure there is no visible rust or dents on the extinguisher and the handle/trigger are clean and free of dust and debris.
  • Fire extinguishers should always be kept in easy to reach, clearly visible (and marked with signage), unobstructed places, evenly distributed among floor plans and throughout multiple floors of a building. Keep in mind the typical hazards located around the building – keep Class K extinguishers near the kitchen, Class C extinguishers near the computer room/server room, and class A extinguishers near the dumpster.
  • Depending on the type of chemical/gas used, the fire extinguisher will need to undergo hydrostatic pressure testing by a professional on a varying schedule: between 5 years for wet contents, CO2, & foams, and up to 12 for halon gases, dry powders, and dry chemicals.
  • Extinguishers exposed to elements such as vibrations, extreme heat or cold, or ones stored on vehicles should be inspected/tested more frequently.
  • Regular maintenance such as visual inspections, cleanings, and pressure checks should be done every month.
  • In areas with many kids and teenagers, fire extinguishers should be kept in protected cabinets (where glass must be broken or an alarm sounds if opened) to deter vandalism.

While fire extinguishers can be the first line of defense against a fire, they have their limitations. Never use a fire extinguisher without training and only use it to combat small fires. Handheld extinguishers are ineffective against conflagrations, so the best course of action when confronted with a large fire is to leave the area immediately and wait for the fire department from a safe distance. Most importantly, always activate the fire alarm and if for any reason you cannot fight the fire, leave the area at once; you can replace property, but you can’t replace lives.

“Choosing and using fire extinguishers.” U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, 29 Dec. 2016, www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/extinguishers.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Bicycle Safety for Motorists and Cyclists

bicycle safety
(Photo Credit: Google Maps)

Cycling is a great workout and can make for a healthy and cheap alternative to driving a car or using public transport to get around. Riding a bike is good for traffic, good for health, and good for the environment, but it does not come without its own set of risks. There are many things that both motorists and cyclists can do to make sure everyone shares the road safely and courteously.

Motorists

  • Watch for bikes when opening doors. Passengers and drivers blindly opening doors into bike lane can cut off a cyclist, causing a crash between the cyclist and the door, or force them to dangerously steer into motor vehicle traffic. In most states, opening doors into traffic establishes fault if doing so results in an accident.
  • Share the road. Give bikes space, especially on crowded streets. Only pass when there is enough room to do so safely and never tailgate a person on a bike.
  • Check for cyclists when turning or pulling over to the side of the road. Motorists may not always think to check the right side of the car when turning or pulling over to the right, but a bike may be approaching. Treat bike lanes like another lane of traffic.
  • Do not park in bike lanes. Aside from being a fineable offense, this forces cyclists into motor vehicle traffic.
  • Always use your headlights – even during the day. Using your headlights at all times helps other road users see your vehicle better, especially in inclement weather.
  • Get off the phone. This should go without saying and applies whether cyclists are present or not, and sharing the road with cyclists requires extra attention. Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents.

Cyclists

  • Always wear a helmet – while this may only be a legal requirement for those under 16, this should be rule number one for all riders. The leading part of the body to fly forward off of a bike in a crash is usually the head and bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 60%.
  • Know the rules of the road. Cyclists must follow the same rules as motorists and can be cited for things such as running red lights, not yielding for pedestrians in crosswalks, and heading the wrong way down a street.
  • Always use your headlights and taillights at night and make sure they are the correct color (white for front, red for back), and clearly visible from a distance of at least 600 feet. Reflectors must be present on both the front and back sides of the pedals or on the ankles of the rider.
  • Wear highly visible clothing, especially at night.
  • Never ride on limited access highways such as interstates. These roads are marked with signage at onramps prohibiting bicycles.
  • Cyclists must yield to pedestrians, especially when riding on sidewalks (not all towns and neighborhoods allow bike riding on public sidewalks). When passing a pedestrian, cyclists should use an audible warning such as a bell or verbally calling out to the pedestrian.
  • Use hand signals to indicate the intention to stop, turn, or change lanes.

Vacation Travel Tips

vacation travel tips
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)

Between planning itineraries, booking hotels & flights, packing, and making reservations, vacations can be quite stressful, even if they’re meant to reduce stress. On top of the prospect of flight delays, bad weather, and rowdy kids, you shouldn’t have to worry about your home and your property. Careful planning can help you and your family avoid a costly loss at home and abroad.

  • Clear out your wallet: carry only what is absolutely essential. Aside from the inconvenience of a lost wallet, a stolen wallet can mean big trouble if your cards and IDs get into the wrong hands. Bring only one credit card with fraud protection and leave your debit cards, and any unnecessary contents at home or in the hotel safe. Report your trip with your credit card company to avoid an accidental freeze on the account. Also, bring only enough cash to cover the incidentals for the day – not the entire trip, and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
  • Make copies of your passport/ID: produce color photocopies of any documents you plan on having with you on the trip. Store a copy in the hotel safe, and keep one at home in case you lose the original. You can also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate if you plan on traveling abroad. This free service will assist you if you in an emergency, such as losing your passport.
  • Avoid social media: don’t over share your trip experience until you get home. While it may be tempting to publish your hike up the Great Wall or your pint of stout in Dublin, social media posts inform could-be criminals that you’re not home. These posts include status updates, check-ins, Snap Chat stories, pictures, and anything that is posted with your current location.
  • Make sure your rental is insured: If you are planning on renting a car on your trip, check if you’re covered. Typically, your personal auto policy will extend both liability and physical damage coverage while using a rental car within the US, its territories and Canada. Double check with your agent or insurance company to make sure. If you are traveling to anywhere else or you don’t have a personal auto policy, you’ll need supplemental insurance (provided as an extra cost by the rental company). As a general rule when in doubt, get the insurance offered at the rental company; peace of mind goes a long way when traveling. In addition, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road and abide by all speed limits. Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may also need to apply for an international license.
  • Secure your home: make sure your home systems remain working while you’re away. Arm your security system before you head out and set the lights on timers to make it appear as though someone is home. If it is cold outside, make sure the thermostat is set to at least 65 degrees and all pipes are adequately insulated. Lock all doors, windows, and gates, and keep valuables stored inside the garage or the house, but away from exterior windows (so as to not attract burglars). If you’re going away for an extended period of time, reach out to the post office and your newspaper to suspend delivery until you get back. Piles of newspapers indicate a homeowner’s absence while mail and packages are prone to theft, which can also increase the risk of identity theft.

Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip or an international excursion, a bit of preparation and careful planning will help you have a more enjoyable trip and avoid a lot of potential headache.

Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls at Work

preventing slips, trips, and falls
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Slips, trips, and falls also known as STFs, are some of the leading causes of injury in the workplace. In the United States, nearly 50,000 people are injured and almost 600 more are killed in fall-related incidents at work. These injuries result in lost productivity, pain & suffering, lawsuits, and increase healthcare and insurance costs. To help reduce your risk of STFs on the job, follow these safety tips:

Inside the Workplace:

  • Keep hallways and corridors clear of obstacles and clutter
  • Never place any objects in front of emergency exits, especially furniture
  • Install handrails on both sides of all stairwells
  • Keep cords, wiring, and cables clear of walkways
  • Perform routine inspections to identify any dangerous conditions, repair any hazards immediately, and record the details of any incidents that take place
  • Place wet floor signs on wet surfaces (entryways after snowstorms, freshly mopped floors, spill areas, etc.)
  • Remove debris and objects such as loose papers, books, boxes, etc. from floors, walkways, and stairs
  • Use non-skid rubber mats to keep rugs from slipping
  • Do not place furniture within walking routes
  • Use child safety gates at the tops and bottoms of staircases to prevent children from falling down the stairs

Ladders:

  • Only use ladders on a solid, dry, and even surface
  • Always face the ladder when climbing up or down
  • Maintain three points of contact at all times (e.g.: Two feet, one hand/one foot, two hands)
  • Never lean or over reach over the sides of the ladder – reposition the ladder if necessary
  • Use tool belts – do not climb with tools in hand
  • Do not use ladders outside in windy or rainy conditions
  • Do not use chairs, tables, cabinets, etc. as ladders
  • Keep in mind the weight limit and use duty for each ladder

Outdoor Spaces:

  • Repair cracked or split walking surfaces immediately
  • Make sure parking lots, walkways, and doorways are adequately lit
  • Point downspouts away from walking surfaces
  • Keep walkways/driveways/parking lots clear of snow and ice
  • Clearly mark steps, gaps, ledges, and other hazards
  • Ensure all steps have handrails, and all ledges have railings

Taking these steps can help reduce or prevent slips, trips, and falls from occurring at your workplace and reduce the chances of injuries and costly lawsuits.

“Slips, Trips and Falls.” National Safety Council. National Safety Council, 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. http://www.nsc.org/NSCDocuments_Advocacy/Fact%20Sheets/Slips-Trips-and-Falls.pdf.

Icy Sidewalks And Injury Prevention

SONY DSC
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Every winter, many people are injured when they slip and fall on icy sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to broken bones and head injuries. Whether you’re a property owner/manager or just going for a walk outside, there are some things you can do to help prevent injury to yourself or others when the pavement gets slippery.

For Property Owners/Managers

  • If you don’t have access to a snowblower or a plow, shoveling walking surfaces early and often during heavy storms will make the job easier and less stressful on your body. While shoveling, drink plenty of water and take breaks.
  • Make sure entrances and vestibules are kept dry or wet floor signs are present when water and slush are tracked into a building.
  • Check your local municipal government’s website to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding snow removal deadlines to avoid fines or citations.
  • Be mindful of the type of salt/de-icer you use on your driveway/walkway and apply only the recommended amounts as indicated by the manufacturer. Certain kinds are harmful to plants, animals, water supplies, and may even damage the surface itself.
  • Grit, such as sand, kitty litter, and gravel can help provide extra traction on stairs and sidewalks, especially when combined with salt or de-icer.
  • Lock all gates, doors, and fences leading to restricted or unused outdoor areas (such as bar or restaurant patios) to prevent trespassers and unauthorized visitors from slipping on untreated surfaces.
  • Risk Transfer – if you’re using a contractor to clear snow and ice from walkways, driveways and parking lots, make sure you have a signed contract with contractor assuming responsibility for this exposure and you are named as an Additional Insured on the contractor’s GL policy covering this operation.

For Pedestrians

  • Move slowly and try to keep your steps flat to the surface to avoid slipping on icy or wet areas.
  • Wear shoes or boots with plenty of traction. If the soles of your footwear are smooth or worn, they are more prone to losing grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Black ice may form when the temperature drops suddenly after a storm. Be especially careful walking outside after the weather has been cold and wet.
  • Watch out for traffic. Icy conditions for pedestrians mean icy roads for motorists who may lose control of their vehicles if they’re not careful.

Icy and untreated sidewalks are dangerous and can leave your home or business vulnerable to a injury claim or lawsuit. Following these tips can help mitigate your risk of being liable if someone slips and falls.

Maintaining Vacant Property

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It is easy to understand how an unoccupied office, building, or apartment could seem harmless from the perspective of the insured. Many business owners operate remotely and maintain vacant property in other locations. Vacant properties however, can present a surprising number of challenges if not properly monitored.

Property is considered vacant if less than 31% is occupied. Because of the lack of owner or tenant presence, vacant properties are more likely to experience damage and are prone to criminal activity.

Property that has been vacant for 60 consecutive days before the loss may not be covered by an insurance claim if the following events occur:

  • Vandalism
  • Sprinkler leakage (resulting from unprotected pipes)
  • Glass breakage
  • Water damage
  • Theft or attempted theft

In addition, other covered causes of loss are reduced by 15% for vacant but insured property.

Consider taking steps to ensure that your vacant commercial property is secured and protected from loss that may occur in an owner’s absence. There are ways that both tenants and property owners can reduce the risk associated with unoccupied building space for extended periods of time. Properly setting the thermostat, or using a remote climate controlled system, and turning off the water supply when not in use prevents leaks, cracks, and water damage. Ensuring that ice dams are prevented and gutters cleaned out also helps reduce possible damage. Installing an alarm system and providing lighting around the perimeter discourages burglary, theft, and glass breakage.

Protect Your Home from Wildlife Entry

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During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.

Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:

  • Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
  • Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
  • Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
  • Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
  • Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks

Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

(Photo Credit: iStock)

Every May, the NHTSA and state governments come together to coordinate Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, which strives to spread awareness about motorcycle laws and education designed to keep everyone on the road safe. The number of deaths and injuries caused by accidents involving motorcycles is staggering, and many of these are caused by non-motorcycle users of the road. It’s important to understand safety issues facing motorcycles in traffic, regardless of whether your vehicle has two wheels or more. Below is a list of safety tips you should familiarize yourself with before your next ride:

For Motorcyclists:

  • Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet while riding. You are much more likely to experience severe brain damage caused by head trauma in a crash if you are wearing a non-compliant helmet.
  • Wear brighter, more reflective gear, especially while traveling at night, and make sure your lights are functioning, bright, and visible (unblocked).
  • Lane splitting may help save time and avoid getting rear-ended in heavy traffic, but it can also be very dangerous and illegal. If you’re going to filter forward, make sure it is done safely, with courtesy, and only where it is legal.

For Other Road Users:

  • Because motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks, they can be more difficult to spot, especially in blind spots. Always check your blind spots & mirrors, use your turn signals, and use extra care when you know motorcycles are nearby.
  • Give more following distance to motorcycles. This gives motorcyclists room to perform emergency stops or maneuvers for road hazards like gravel, potholes, standing water, cracks, or train tracks that passenger vehicles can usually continue over at reduced speed.
  • Share the road with motorcyclists, but not the lane. Motorcyclists should always get a full lane width, even if it may look like there is room for a car.

For Everyone:

  • Never operate any vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Leave the phone in your pocket and just focus on the road. Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
  • Take time to rest during long trips so you stay alert, awake, and ready for the road ahead.

You can learn more about Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month at the NHTSA’s website.

Understanding Employment Practices Liability Risk

superior court
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Many businesses underestimate the potential risk involved with not having employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). Having a code of conduct and expertise in human resources helps mitigate most forms of unlawful employment practices, but incidents can and do still happen. Every business is exposed to employment practices liability, an area of professional liability that includes:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Wage/Hour Law Violations
  • Intentional Emotional Distress
  • Wrongful Termination
  • False Imprisonment

The laws regarding these illegal practices are interpreted and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which recognizes eleven types of employment practices discrimination: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment.

Employment practices don’t deal with just full-time employees either. Volunteers, part-time workers, contractors, customers, and vendors can all file charges against an employer for an alleged violation of these laws. With these types of charges on the rise, it is important for business owners to fully understand the laws surrounding employment practices as well as the tools needed to best protect them from potential lawsuits. For more information about employment practices liability, visit our Employer Protection resource page.

Laws Enforced by EEOC.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

Discrimination by Type.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017.

Daylight Saving Time Spring Checklist

Daylight Saving Time

It’s time to “spring forward” for daylight saving early this Sunday morning, March 13. Since it occurs twice a year, daylight saving is the perfect time to perform basic maintenance in and around your home:

  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check to see if they have expiration dates, and change the batteries.
  • After a winter of using your fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney cleaned and inspected.
  • Check your fire extinguishers’ gauges to make sure they are still charged sufficiently. If they’re low, contact your local fire department to find out where to recharge them. Extinguishers must always be recharged after use. Make sure one is always easily accessible throughout your home.
  • Check outside railings, stairs, and walkways if you have them for needed repair after the winter.
  • Check trees for signs of damaged branches that might need to come down. Consider contacting a tree professional.
  • Perform spring maintenance on appliances and home systems:
    • Change filters in your HVAC systems as needed, or have them serviced.
    • Clean your refrigerator—wipe down the inside and vacuum underneath and behind to ensure optimal operating efficiency.
    • Drain the water heater to flush out sediment.

(Did you know that sudden damage to these home systems and appliances caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars. Read more on how to protect these systems.)

  • Change your windshield wiper blades. If you have snow tires, plan to remove them as the weather gets warmer and snow and ice are no longer on the horizon.
  • Contact your insurance agent to review your coverage to make sure it’s still adequate, especially if you’ve had any major purchases or life events in the last year.

Daylight saving is a helpful calendar reminder to do these routine maintenance tasks. We’ll make sure to publish one in the fall as well, which will be somewhat different due to seasonality.